The story so far

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The Story So Far
an update

In August 2012, Jo and Matthew developed The Story So Far through a travelling workshop in north Norfolk.

This is an update on what happened, who they met, and what was created.



Workshop diary.

Ideas behind the show have been buzzing about for a bit, but they first made sense as a project on a trip to Box Hill in March.  We found a storytelling form that allows the story to grow each time it’s performed.  Crucially, the story grows with the help of the audience.

We began devising in early August.  We started to find our feet in puppetry and created characters through improvised stories, made a puppet we named Stan and set him off in search of a mysterious character that later got called the Traveller.  We also taught each other acapella versions of pop songs.

We first showed what we’d come up with to some trusted advisers at Gameshow HQ, before packing our bags for Norfolk.  The story found its next instalment at Moor Hall Farm and we worked on what we learnt from there in a disused quarry just outside Holt.  Stan got some funny looks from bank holiday shoppers in Holt, made some people smile and scared a small child called Santiago.

Walking out of town, camping in the woods, breakfast rehearsal in Saxlingham churchyard.  In Langham, the Bluebell pub declares above the bar, ‘There’s no such thing as strangers; just friends you’ve never met.’  We met Stevie outside and two young aides to the local MP, who was doing the rounds of seventeen villages that day.  We got half way through a show for them, gathered round a picnic table, when Norman Lamb MP rolled up.  So we carried our ginger beers indoors and before long were performing to the landlady, Kenny, and Roger from Wells.

 

 

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The landlady of the Bluebell has run the pub for over twenty years. Football trophies won by the local team crowd the mantelpiece and an ornate didgeridoo is mounted on the beam opposite the entrance – she’s got stories about it all.  Kenny is a soft touch for a roll up.  A garrulous man with advice on everything, Roger was a fisherman out of Wells-next-the-Sea for thirty years. He liked the songs especially.

Their story set Stan off on the road to Binham, where we had lunch at the ruined priory.  That night we camped in the iron age fort outside Warham.  Into Wells via a pig farm and booked into Pinewoods campsite beyond the salt flats.  A little rushed round the coast to get to Holkham in time for Walking, part of Norwich and Norfolk Festival, put together by Robert Wilson.

 

 

Walking requires walking at a third of walking pace.  One fellow walker  found the wait before the walk too long, and decided to do-it-herself. Last seen walking in the opposite direction to the route of Walking at three times her normal walking pace.  Another pair of walkers Val and Ian drove us back into Wells, where we had a near disastrous meal at Ollie’s restaurant, before a moonlit walk under stars back to our tent.

Rehearsals the next morning were rained off and, when we found two holes in the tent, we decided it was home time.  Not before we’d met the  Friends of the Granary Theatre and fixed a gig playing to them after their  fundraising tabletop sale.  Most of these volunteers who keep the theatre running top sixty (in age – they top six hundred watts in energy).  One was pleased to announce that their attempts to diversify audiences – and theatrical tastes – were working: a recent one-transvestite show had gone down a storm, shocking the performer into reappraising his target audience.

The next couple of days were back to the drawing board, working through what we had learnt and divining which way forward.  Rehearsing, devising, writing and performing while travelling on foot is no walk in the park, but wouldn’t it be fun if more theatre was made that way.

Stan’s story so far.

N.B. Every time the story was told it changed, that’s the storyteller’s prerogative.  This is one version written from memory.

Stan is a puppet made of two coat hangers, a length of wire, a plastic bottle and several plastic bags. He was made in August in an office on Blackfriars Road.

 

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Towards the middle of August Stan was swimming, swimming in pale grey seas off a coast of pebbles and sand dunes and clouds. As he swam inland he felt a hand – it felt like a hand – close round his foot, just catch at it before he kicked it off. He swam faster but the hand, its brief touch, reached for him again; again he kicked it off and racing now he reached the shore. Scrambling away from the sea he paused at the top of the rise and looked back. A figure stood in the surf, silhouetted, looking at him. Impossible to know if young or old, woman or man. The figure raised a hand, turned, and walked back into the sea, and for an moment Stan felt indescribably sad, before turning his head and walking away.

That was just after Stan heard about the Traveller.

Stan took the lift down out of the airless office, whose windows don’t open. He walked up Blackfriars Road to Southwark and took a train east, to Sheringham, heading for the sea. When he got to Sheringham he hurried onto the beach, shouting for the Traveller. People moved away. There was no one in the surf. He walked up Sheringham promenade to the top of the cliffs, following the direction pointed out to him by some fishermen’s rods. He reached the windy outpost of Sheringham Watch, and turned a corner of the building out of the wind and – was face to face with a figure. Impossible to know if this was a man or a woman, young or old. He raised his hand and opened his mouth to say something but the figure whisked around the next corner of the building back into the wind. Stan followed and found no one. Out to sea or inland? Stan went inland.

 

At dusk he was at Moor Hall Farm, along the road to Briston. Following the Freegards’ advice he walked across a wide garden set back from a drive, and into a field. Was that a figure at the end of the field? A haystack. He crosses the field following the directions given by the Freegards until he comes to a small farmhouse, and speaks to a thickset man with a deep Norfolk voice called Herbert. Stan asks Herbert if he’s seen the Traveller. Herbert isn’t sure what Stan’s talking about at first, but thinks, and says Stan should try at Small Hopes Farm, a little further down the road.

On the road now. It’s dark along the lane, but the moon lights him. Something swoops about his head. An owl. Not one, then, but many all at once filling the air above him thickly, then gone, then back, and none. They seem to be saying something he almost thinks. The thought becomes a conviction: I’ll trade a mouse for news of the Traveller. Stan hurries into a field down on hands and knees in the stubble, hunting along the ground. Follows a mouse to its nest, snatches it aloft. An owl swoops, loop the loops, and says ‘Twit twoo’. Stan doesn’t speak owl, so carries on to Small Hopes Farm.

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At Small Hopes Farm up the dark path to the door with  light coming from a window behind, he sees a woman, must be a woman, silhouetted and wide, a farmer’s wife sort of woman, wide as the house and half as tall, gets closer and the woman’s a farmer not her wife, closer still and the shadows shift. No wife at all but a drainpipe. Suddenly no Small Hopes to cling to, so Stan turns to walk into the woods for the night.

Two days on and Stan’s gone on through Holt, walks into Langham with the sun at high morning. There’s one pub, the Bluebell. Stan goes in, mornin’-ing at two old boys outside.Inside the landlady’s friendly, a sign says no stranger’s a stranger just not yet a friend. Encouraged, Stan sets to listening, hears how her back hurts, how that’s her husband in the photo behind the bar, how her business rates were lowered but the price of beer’s too high. How next door there lived a traveller, they called him the Didgeridoo man, initiated into an aboriginal Australian clan, painted the best didgeridoos, moved back to Langham and painted them out of that house there next to the pub itself, painted hollow arms of trees chosen each year by his own eyes and shipped over to Norfolk, painted and shipped back, done with travelling now that the wood travels for him, no two sounds the same.

 

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Her name’s ‘call me twenty names if you like so long as none’s a swear word’. At the bar, talking too, is Roger, white beard and smile as wide as his face. Do they know the Traveller? Ask Kenny, says Roger, who comes in from having his fag outside, first pint gone as the morning ticks to twelve.  Does he know the Traveller? Kenny laughs at Stan’s description, but they all listen bright eyed and still as a feather fallen. Old? Says Kenny – better try old Holl in Binham, he’s as old as you like, but Stan says old and young too. Kenny laughs again – try old Holl, maybe its his brother. Roger nods, Yer try there, it’s the shop over at Binham, butcher’s too. And there’s the Priory.

 

Stan leaves into sun and walks to Binham. Soon he starts to see strange long-winged shapes circling above him. There’s a growling sound, and a small plane shoots upwards, chased by one of the long-winged birds but lazily. At the top of the climb the bird loops away and lazily down, circling, while the plane plummets in a stylish dive, dipping out of eyeshot behind a hedge before pulling out of it. Gliders, Stan realises, and brings his eyes back to earth.Ahead is a ruin, walls to waist height around a central square with a single tree in it, and off to the right remains that gather until they tower into an impressive whole: a still roofed church. Stan smooths a palm over one sun-warmed cobble in the church wall, when a sound ever so slight makes him look up. An owl is above him, bright white in the sun, spreads wings and darkens into a silhouette as it crosses the beam of Stan’s eye against the sky. Owl past, there’s a sun shot that makes him squint, screwing his face up. A hand, it feels like a hand, on his shoulder and he spins, is looking into a face flecked with age as light on water, clear as rain spun through with sun. The Traveller. Stan opens his mouth to smile a greeting, when the Traveller raises a finger to lips, and takes only the length of a low release of breath to lift both arms up and down, fast and lazily lifting, into the air as both arms lengthen into wings, leaving Stan with that lingering shhhhh as the Traveller glides north over the horizon to the coast.

 

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Stan fixes his eyes on the vanishing point, and follows as far as sea-squall-washed Wells-next-the-Sea, where he waits, and waits and wanders.